20th Century Boy in 21st Century Woking

Woking hosted more glam rock classics when the story of Marc Bolan, 20th Century Boy opened last night in it’s New Victoria Theatre.

A hard edged opening, the headlines of the singer’s death plastered across the stage, firmly sets the context that this is a depiction of a real person’s life and death that is being played out.  By using the vehicle of a son’s quest to discover his father it doesn’t allow the nostalgia of sparkles and glam rock to make it a saccharine show of a story made up to showcase songs put through the musical theatre genre-ometer.

The energy is high the writing showing humour and pain; it’s easy to forget what we think of as rock n roll cliches were that because these ‘cool hipsters’ and Faces’ invented and used them. The lighting and visual effects are amazing against the plain back backdrop of the stage and as the story moves between different parts of Bolan’s life the stage is cleverly transformed.

Warren Sollars as Marc Bolan held his own with his mannerisms, especially when performing with TRex, and, a very Bolanesque switching between a vulnerability and incredible arrogance in the offstage persona that made the man the mythical figure he became also painted a picture for us. The story held the audience  at times guiltily at being there for the songs and then, many remembering those headlines, and the use of some songs such as Cosmic Dancer to illustrate key moments in the drama gave the production poignant depth and atmosphere.

Notably the vocal talents of Donna Hines (Gloria Jones) Lucy Sinclair (June Child) and Katia Sartini (Helen Shapiro) were outstanding and the way the play staged the Lyceum gig gave the audience a feeling of actually being at a live gig and me a reminder to quell irritation that an enactment of someone’s life story leads the audience to scratch their live gig itch. (try a real one, now, not a tribute act or story).

It is an event that covers adult themes and the dialogue reflects that, I was with my 14 year old, felt a bit nervous at the camper van scene and then remembered she watches TOWIE and at least this has good music in it. Parenting success – tick!

Musicals about a musician and their life often live or die by the quality of the musicians playing live, especially when it is a legendary figure, audiences can be unforgiving if a memory of theirs isn’t fulfilled. In this, the strength of the musicians playing satisfied this picky old bird. In particular the guitar parts played by Ryan Alex Farmery though physically he was in the background, gave a power and authenticity to this production that really deserve a mention. With the story coming to it’s inevitable painful close, the band stayed on to do a few songs and brought the shy Monday night audience to their feet, if the amount of feathers flying from the free feather boa’s handed out at the beginning as people danced are anything to go by, Friday and Saturday night’s performance will be like a flamingo moulting season. I’d see it again and take a grumpy punk with me too, even they would like it.

20th Century Boy is at The New Victoria Theatre Woking until Saturday 14 June tickets available from atgtickets.com/woking or 0844 871 7645


Elaine McGinty 10 June 2014